The Miami portion of the 2016 MiFo Film Festival continues at various venues through May 1. Below are reviews of selected titles, including two dramas and a documentary. (Advance tickets are available at mifofilm.com).
Those People (Little Big Horn), the feature film debut by out director and co-screenwriter Joey Kuhn, feels like one of those LGBT film festival flicks that could easily crossover to a wider ranging audience. That’s mainly because almost everyone, gay or straight, can relate to the story of one person being in love with someone who is too self-absorbed to notice or care.
Spanning a three month period, from September through December, the people in Those People include Charlie (Jonathan Gordon), a gay MFA student in painting with “Jewish stomach” issues, and his childhood best friend Sebastian (Jason Ralph), a spoiled gay Upper East Side rich kid, whose family name has been destroyed by his imprisoned financial swindler father. There is also Ursula (Britt Lower), who is an underling at Vogue and a part-time waitress, straight bartender Wyatt (Chris Conroy) and London (Meghann Fahey), who used to be employed by Sebastian’s father.
A night out at a piano bar for Charlie’s birthday results in a flirtation between Charlie and experienced piano man Tim (Haaz Sleiman), who also happens to be an accomplished chamber musician. A street confrontation with paparazzi also hastens Sebastian’s downward spiral. Caught between his unrequited love for Sebastian and the promise of a new and thrilling romance with Tim, Charlie is forced to make difficult decisions about himself and his future.
Those People has a lot going for it, including strong performances from lead actors Gordon, Ralph and Sleiman and a solid supporting cast. Kuhn also proves his mettle as a writer and director, one who shows great promise. (Screening at Wolfsonian-FIU on April 28.)
In the Vermont-set indie Fair Haven (The Little Film Company), James (Michael Grant), who has deferred his first year at Berklee College of Music, returns home to his widowed father Ricky (Broadway and TV star Tom Wopat) after being sent to a conversion therapy program. James, 19, tells his father he thinks he’s “better now.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Initially James avoids Charlie (Josh Green), with whom he had been in a relationship. He even tries going out with Suzy (Lily Anne Harrison), the perky and virginal minister’s daughter. But the flashbacks to his de-gaying sessions with Dr. Gallagher (Gregory Harrison) provide little help. When James finally admits that he’s still in love with Charlie, who also feels the same for him, he must confront his father and his future. (Screening at Colony Theater on Apr. 30.)
Narrated by gay writer Christopher Rice, Upstairs Inferno (Camina Entertainment) is a doc about the tragic and devastating 1973 fire in the New Orleans gay bar the Up Stairs Lounge, which resulted in 32 deaths and multiple injuries. With anti-gay hate crimes and other such activities on the rise in the heated political climate leading up to the November 2016 Presidential election, this film is extremely timely.
Featuring interviews with survivors, historians, reporters, patrons, and an extremely emotional Reverend Troy Perry, Upstairs Inferno provides a detailed history of the “off the beaten path” bar, which opened on Halloween 1970, including descriptions of the décor. One of the few non-segregated bars, it was a “gathering place of friends.” The bar was also known for its shows – “Nellydramas” – as well as being an early home for Rev. Perry’s Metropolitan Community Church.
The January 1973 fire, said to be set by disgruntled patron Roger Dale Nunez, tore through the bar resulting in numerous casualties and the film includes graphic images from the disaster. The losses and the lack of appropriate response from politicians and law enforcement, as well as some members of the clergy, served to strengthen the now visible community and prepared them for the unforeseen fights that lay ahead. But more than 40 years later, the outcome of the tragedy is that it has had an irreversible effect on the survivors. (Screening at Miami Beach Cinematheque on May 1.)